Carnality is a swelling tide in churches everywhere, pushing godliness out of the ministries and lives of their leaders and members. Churches are crowded with carnal and materialistic people. Any form of emphasis on modesty, purity and godliness is considered weak and useless, while tolerance of carnality and worldliness is cherished as profitable virtues.
The appearance, mannerisms and pursuits of many members of modern churches speak volumes about the tragic level of accommodation of worldliness that exists within the churches today. It is all too obvious that preachers, who have been entrusted to “preach the word… reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine”, have drastically failed in their duty. Many preachers, even those who claim to be biblical preachers, shy away from rebuking carnality within their congregations. In fact, preaching has become much worse than that. Licentious preaching is heard everywhere. Many preachers have deteriorated to the point that they even make fun of preachers who warn relentlessly against the worldly mentality of churchgoers. The “acceptable preaching” of our times requires refraining from the rebuking of carnality, and the dishing out of ready reassurances and blessings to all churchgoers, even to those who indulge in carnal living.
The Bible clearly speaks about the reasons for the tolerance of carnality by preachers. Three of those reasons are discussed below:
The insatiable desire for popularity is often the cause for preachers’ tolerance of sin within their congregation. They would rather maintain a comfortable relationship with their carnal members than have to deal with their ire when rebuked for their carnal living. Tolerance of sin is a very different issue from being patient with a man who is repentant and submissive to the rebuke of the Word. Tolerance is to permit members to continue in their unchaste behaviour without being rebuked or warned. A preacher, who wants to be in the good books of all men, hardly dares to expose or confront his members’ sins.
A pastor who rebukes the carnality of the people is often called “a negative preacher”. He receives comments such as, “O, his preaching is too negative”; “he is a narrow-minded and intolerant preacher”; or “he has this ‘holier than thou’ attitude”. The “crime” of such a faithful pastor is that he calls their sins, “sins”. How should God’s people read and apply the Ten Commandments that God has given through Moses? Eight of them are negative! Jeremiah’s preaching ministry is summarised as: “to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant” (Jeremiah 1:10). Four negatives and two positives! So was the preaching of every other faithful servant of the Lord.
Our Lord Jesus preached fearlessly against the sins of His hearers. He did not mince His words against the sins of His “religious” hearers so that He might become more popular among them (cf. John 8:44; Matthew 23). Would modern churchgoers that dislike preachers who strongly warn them against their carnal living, ever have God’s prophets like Moses, Jeremiah, Malachi, John the Baptiser, etc. to preach to them in their churches? Would they have Christ and the apostles to preach to them?
The apostle Paul instructed Timothy to “reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Timothy 4:2). In the context of this instruction to preachers, Paul warned, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry” (2 Timothy 4:3-5). Irrespective of people’s opinions, faithful preachers must preach against the sins of their hearers.
Another reason for preachers’ present lack of rebuking of sin is their greed. Today, many who fill the role of pastors are men of “corrupt minds”, whose philosophy is “supposing that gain is godliness” (1 Timothy 6:5). The prophet Isaiah mentioned greed as the reason why false prophets of his time stirred up the wayward nation of Israel, instead of rebuking it sharply. Read carefully Isaiah’s words that rebuked the prophets who failed to warn against the sins of the people – “His watchmen are blind: they are all ignorant, they are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber. Yea, they are greedy dogs which can never have enough, and they are shepherds that cannot understand: they all look to their own way, every one for his gain, from his quarter. Come ye, say they, I will fetch wine, and we will fill ourselves with strong drink; and to morrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant” (Isaiah 56:10-12).
Many pastors are wary of offending prominent and rich members of the church who are carnal men. The covetous hearts of these pastors would rather speak words that please the wealthy and the prominent ones than offend them. They gather people by means of pleasing music and other entertainments, and then send them away in ‘high spirits’ to continue in their sins. It is no more uncommon to see skimpily dressed singers and dancers on the church stage during worship services. Undiscerning men and women gather around these performers with loud applause and screams. Sunday services are increasingly becoming religious entertainment for a “carnally thirsty” crowd. Why would Christian preachers promote such activities? One reason, according to the Bible, is that these provide them with many gains. In turn, they also teach their congregations that “gain is godliness”. Peter describes them as “beguiling unstable souls: an heart they have exercised with covetous practices; cursed children” (2 Peter 2:14b). Likewise, Jude warns, “Woe unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Core” (v. 11)!
Another biblical reason accounting for preachers’ tolerance of carnality within the church is that they themselves are carnal men. The apostle Peter wrote, “Spots they are and blemishes, sporting themselves with their own deceivings while they feast with you; having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin” (2 Peter 2:13-14). They will not rebuke but quietly approve the carnal mannerisms of the congregation because they themselves are men with “eyes full of adultery”! It is impossible that a righteous man would tolerate carnal behaviour and activities within his congregation. Preachers ought to be “preachers of righteousness”.
Church leaders, who know of carnality in their congregations and yet do not reprove it, may well be living in the lust of the flesh. Outwardly, such men may look religious and pious, but the Lord who knows all hearts, says that these are men full of lust. 2 Timothy 3:5-7 says of such men in the churches, “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”